South Korean jack-of-all-trades Bong Joon-ho puts his unique stamp on a genre and then moves on to a new one. Memories of Murder is one of the definitive serial killer hunts, while Snowpiercer is a singular dystopian action film. Bong’s attempt at a monster movie, The Host, is a small-scale homage to Japanese kaiju films, where environmental degradation and national humiliation creates a rampaging fiend. However, while The Host fits neatly into Bong’s filmography, it’s easily his worst effort to date. Effects that would later wow in Okja are not up to par in the mid-2000’s, and his topsy-turvy use of tone furrows brows instead of bringing the viewer in. Immersiveness is not a problem for Bong, having created multiple lived-in environments, but The Host is an outlier for a director who’s other work always strikes center mass.
The 19th film from Pixar studios, Coco, takes liberally from the animated masterpieces that have come before it. Outliving one’s usefulness is here, as it has been in the Toy Story films. A magical moment of Proustian recall evokes personal favorite Ratatouille. A theme of reunion runs through Coco, as it did in Finding Nemo/Dory and The Good Dinosaur. This kind of connection to Pixar’s artistic past is anything but a crutch, especially when Coco itself is dedicated to keeping the past alive. This applies to the characters within Lee Unkrich’s and Adrian Molina’s beautiful film and to Coco itself, another Pixar masterwork that slots in next to the studio’s many other highlights.
Olivier Assayas’ lengthy resume has been barely tapped into by this viewer, but what’s been seen is admired and sometimes loved. Summer Hours is one of the best films of the 21st century while Clouds of Sils Maria features exceptional acting from its main trio of actresses. One of those actresses, Kristen Stewart, returns to work with Assayas in Personal Shopper. Clouds of Sils Maria was one of several recent films that have established Stewart as a serious artist, obliterating the stink of the Twilight saga. Personal Shopper is another entry in her critical ascendance. Assayas has a habit of returning to the same actresses in his work, and while Personal Shopper can be irritating in its worldview for this skeptic, the partnership between the director and Stewart is plainly one that is working out for both of them.
In Margot Robbie’s brief career, she’s played the wife of a camera-addressing unreliable narrator and she’s had a memorable camera-addressing cameo. In I, Tonya, she gets to be the camera-addressing unreliable narrator, bringing as much desperate passion to the role of Tonya Harding as her former screen-husband Leonardo DiCaprio brought to Jordan Belfort in Wolf of Wall Street. Besides sharing Robbie’s presence, those two films have much in common, from the incriminating finger it points at the audience to Craig Gillespie’s aping of Martin Scorsese’s propulsive style. Scorsese is constantly in the margins of I, Tonya, but this is no kneecapping insult to a master’s patented form. I, Tonya has a big heart towards its real-life inspiration and its cinematic one as well, a combination that sits comfortably next to the derision and disgust the film holds for this peculiar tale’s less sympathetic characters. Of course, whether or not Tonya Harding herself is a sympathetic character remains an open question.
The last Churchillian England film of 2017 leaves behind the you-are-there intensity of Dunkirk and the propaganda efforts of Their Finest for the lonely seat of power in the last European state to actively withstand Hitler’s Germany. Darkest Hour puts the viewer in Winston Churchill’s head as he takes command and is immediately confronted with the potential annihilation of much of the British army, stranded across the channel in France. Joe Wright’s film is a visual study in leadership and how intensely isolating it can be. Led by Gary Oldman’s Churchill, Darkest Hour deigns to show the heroic amounts of courage, alcohol, and political will that must be expended even in something as self-evident as resisting Nazi’s.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.